They say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, but that is not computed by 84-year-old Annie Middelburg, who just learned a new drinking game called ‘beer pong’ from her 22-year-old flatmate, Jurrien Mentink.
Humanitas is a unique inter-generational Dutch retirement home that puts together the young and old, and people suffering from mental disorders with students and volunteers, to share conversations that are not only about death, sickness and old age, but also about youth, parties, girlfriends – and the Internet, of course.
Students often struggle to find housing in the Netherlands, so Humanitas to came up with this cheap way of providing them with a college dorm, while also providing better company for their residents. Six students live rent free at the care home in Deventer, near Amsterdam, in exchange for spending at least 30 hours a month socialising with the older residents. (Playing beer pong is not compulsory.)
“We see it as our mission to ensure that our elderly suffer less from the disadvantages involved with ageing, like loneliness and the feeling of being excluded from society,” CEO Gea Sijpkes tells us. “We noticed that young students living together with our elderly residents started to add value to the life of both groups. A definite win-win situation, in which the problems of loneliness and the feeling of meaninglessness of our elderly residents is solved, while also solving the housing (and financial) problems for students.”
“What I see from the elderly is that they really enjoy the little things,” Mentink explains. “Young people are so focused on their future that they don’t notice things like how beautiful this park is, they’re just racing through it on their way to work or school.”
Sijpkes’ long term dream is to contribute to a more inclusive society where nobody is left behind. “I find it very interesting to learn that the big questions of loneliness, exclusion, ageing and the moral standard of society are worldwide issues,” she adds. “We hope that our initiatives will spark a bigger movement, changing our society from an exclusive, isolated one into a warmer, loving and inclusive one.”
Sometimes the inevitable happens. Mentink was with a 105-year-old neighbour shortly before she passed away. “She wished me a good life, to get the most out of it. It’s a nice feeling to help them find their final moments of happiness.”
Watch this view from inside the home. It’s quite wonderful:
Gea Sijpkes, CEO